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Can automakers achieve data-driven empathy?

by Don Deveaux , 19.08.2014

A recent article in a business journal said companies are failing to follow established relationship "rules" and should use their Customer Relationship Management (CRM) systems to develop "data-driven empathy" about what's really going on in the hearts and minds of their customers.

Some customers just want a "fling," for instance. That means the person wants to try out a brand to try on a new identity. Others want to become "best friends," looking to a brand for intimacy and emotional support.

customer brand relationshipUnderstanding these relationships with customers is now possible with CRM systems, but some companies fail to heed the signals customers give them or remain satisfied to use their CRM systems to understand only their customers' transactional behavior, as opposed to their relationship with the brand.

Harvard Business Review's issue about 'Unlock the Mysteries of Your Customer Relationships'

I found the article in the July-August issue of Harvard Business Review, called 'Unlock the Mysteries of Your Customer Relationships', to be an engaging story with lessons for the automotive industry.

Co-authored by our own John Wittenbraker, the Director of Innovation, Brand and Customer Experience at GfK, the article advances the use of human relationships as metaphors for brand relationships to better understand the emotional and social connections that consumers have with brands. Armed with the relational intelligence, companies like yours can design better experiences, cultivate lasting brand relationships and drive sustained growth.

I particularly loved the examples of companies that recognized the value of training their entire organization in how to look for “relationship cues” from their customers and to be flexible in how they interact with these customers. A 40-year-old shopper may not have the same relationship intent as a 55-year-old one, for instance.

customer brand relationships
Data-driven empathy for the automotive sector

I think the auto industry can not only learn from companies that do this well (e.g. Zappos, Nordstrom, Southwest) but also have an opportunity to truly distinguish their brands in an increasingly competitive automotive marketplace.

With quality, styling and features pretty much on par, managing customer relationships is the next opportunity to create a long-lasting competitive advantage – and to build long-term customer loyalty and excitement.

Here's what the article said about Zipcar:

"Zipcar missed the mark with early marketing campaigns focused on fostering social connections among users and building a community around the brand. Research has shown, however, that car sharing customers are interested primarily in functional value. They want clean, well-maintained, up-to-date vehicles, a variety of cars to choose from, excellent customer service, and convenient options. Avis’s recent acquisition of Zipcar is well-aligned with that insight. Avis has the scale and competency to bolster the exchange relationship consumers desire."

Contact us to get the full article. A short abstract is available at HBR.

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For more about our offerings, visit our Automotive or Brand & Customer Experience pages or contact Don DeVeaux, the Global Industry Lead for Automotive at GfK.